byproduct » bi-product

Classification: English

Spotted in the wild:

  • “It’s all about people. Money is only a bi-product you get when you squeeze them hard enough and long enough.” ("Mr. Boffo" comic strip, 15 August 2007)
  • “Sue Marcus, a wild-haired, sassy bi-product of the Just Say Yes generation, is insanely passionate about the work she does.” (link)
  • “Rather, most Silver (80%) is produced as a bi-product of other ores such as … Silver is a major bi-product of the uranium-copper-gold mine at Olympic Dam …” (link)

Analyzed or reported by:

  • Jan Freeman (link)

From Freeman’s Brainiac column of 15 August 2007, about the “Mr. Boffo” strip (which can also be viewed in Mark Liberman’s Language Log posting of 23 August 2007):

I had never seen bi-product for byproduct, but it’s a logical enough mistake: Here, Mr. B (as corporate executive) is interpreting by-product — an incidental outcome of a process — as bi-product, one of two simultaneous results. (But what is the second product he refers to — simply sadistic pleasure?)

This by- prefix, meaning “aside, apart from the main issue,” is fairly uncommon now; an illegitimate child, for instance, is no longer called a by-blow, as Fielding’s Tom Jones was. But we still have byplay and bypass to remind us of why it’s byproduct.

Biproduct is also a real term, says Wikipedia, but it’s not exactly a household word: “In category theory and its applications to mathematics, a biproduct is a generalisation of the notion of direct sum that makes sense in any preadditive category.”

All right, then. But I suspect the mathematical biproduct is too arcane to be tempting writers into careless misspellings. In Mister Boffo’s use, at least, biproduct has all the marks of a genuine eggcorn.

[Plenty of occurrences to be found on the web; two examples are above.]

| link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2007/08/23 |

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